Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Starving Time: The Buried Truth

Percy, Smith, and the other writers mention cannibalism without calling it by name. Percy supplies the details of the starving man who murdered his pregnant wife and ate part of her remains [see blog of 1/4/14], and Smith’s Generall Historie elaborates on the consuming of at least one corpse: “So great was our famine, that a savage we slew, and buried, the poorer sort took him up again and ate him, and so did diverse one another boiled and stewed with roots and herbs.” Horrific as it sounds, it is not impossible to imagine. Jamestown in the winter of 1609-10 was a place where, as Percy says, starving people were desperate enough to lick up the blood which had “fallen from their weake fellowes.”
         Another account of the Starving Time, also written by those who had lived through it, told of eating “vermin or carrion [what]soever we could light on, as also toadstools, jew’s ears [Auricularia auricula-judaea, a small, ear-sized tree fungus], or whatever else we found growing upon the ground that would fill either mouth or belly.” As that terrible winter went on, they were “driven through unsufferable hunger unnaturally to eat those things which nature most abhorred: the flesh and excrements of man.”
They ate these things “as of our own nation as [well as] of an Indian digged by some out of his grave after he had lain buried three days, and wholly devoured him. Others, envying the better state of body of any whom hunger had not yet so much wasted as their own, lay [in] wait and threatened to kill and eat them.”

We now know that in at least one instance, the butchered corpse of a 14-year-old girl, cannibalism was real in early Virginia.


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